‘NORCO’ is a beautiful point-and-click American nightmare

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

Adventure games are fascinating in the sense they have simultaneously aged both horribly and wonderfully in their decades long evolution. 

The point-and-click genre was already formulaic by the late 80s. Even back then, it was seen as cryptic and nonsensical with their elaborate and convoluted puzzle design. So much so the “mummy in a beauty contest” phrase is seemingly a synonym for confusion in the retro-enthusiast crowd. The formula was copy-paste, the slow pace and lack of action turned off the masses and it seemingly never remained a consistent sales grabber, with the genre dying and being resurrected every few years. 

Yet, without question, it is the source of some of the greatest titles to grace the video game industry, many coming out decades ahead of their time.

With the sheer creativity and cleverness of the “Monkey Island” series, the weirdness and cartoon-spunk of “Day of the Tentacle” to even true feelings of Speilberg-esc adventure radiating from “The Dig and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis,” industry icons like Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer were born from this zeitgeist of S-tier writing in adventure games. Even George Lucas directly contributed to several titles in the publishing powerhouse Lucasarts. 

While Lucasarts is its own downfall story of the industry archives, today is still a realm of creators putting their most out-there ideas into adventure game formats, with no exception in the 2022 gothic-horror adventure “NORCO” by developer Geography of Robots. 

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Set in the real town of Norco, a census-designated place in Louisiana that is more concrete and steel than it is earth, being the home of a major petroleum refinery. The misery emanates off the screen as urban decay spreads throughout the convenience stores and dive bars of the few who remain in this community. Despite the trash littering all street corners, the bold golden sunset and distant hum of the highway truly speak to the developers capturing a sense of home and reality few games, or even films, can conjure. 

The plot revolves around Kay, a mysterious lead character who returns home to Norco following her mother’s death. This mobile-home environment is not as it seems, as the supernatural and weird seem to walk along with the living, just as miserable, unphased and depressed as they are. Her robot-demon-thing buddy is the one residing member of their household, and after getting a tip on the whereabouts of her distant brother, she embarks on a state-wide quest to find him. 

Without getting into spoilers, it is simple to say “NORCO” gets weird, traveling to puppet shows under the highway, demonic birds trapped in pollution off the Bayou, to a memorable segment in the remains of an 80s mall turned into what is essentially a cultish army of Best Buy employees. 

The weirdness is just the icing on what the main serving of “NORCO.” Nowhere else are players going to feel more engrossed in the late-night summer heat of the southern swamps and desolate cities. The pinks of evening skies mixed with the ambience of passing cars, the cricket-induced white noise just makes that summer haze more palpable.

Yet in a conscious decision, Geography of Robots did not make the gameplay loop of “NORCO” as obscure as its plot. The few puzzles you run into are not head-scratching, and at times it mostly focuses on dialogue dissection and basic mini-games to get past obstacles. The sound design helps the hours blur, as it can take a weekend to burn through everything. 

Overall, “NORCO” is an atmospheric and intense adventure game that takes the point and click genre not forward in an innovative sense, but gives it a solid shot at grabbing modern audiences with an experience only its unique genre can deliver. 

“NORCO” is available on Windows. 


[email protected]